For those of you who aren’t familiar with #PleaseAllowMeToIntroduce it is a concept that was introduced to me by my former colleague at the Hilton Garden Inn, Amanda Olds. She described this idea that she and her best friend did which showcased those unique individuals that they would meet on their adventures. I have adopted this hashtag to showcase some of those amazing individuals that I get to meet along the road.
On May 9th, I got to assist with the Honor Flight of Portland fundraiser dinner. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that will forever move me.
I live in a lifetime where the most patriotic thing we see is Captain America in the Avenger’s movies. My guy friends scoff at Chris Evan’s character, laughing at his old fashioned manners, polite-gentleman-like behavior and respect for women while my gal friends literally swoon every time he’s on screen. We can’t even begin to comprehend what it was like to be alive and to be a part of society as The Greatest Generation.
World War II was a brutal time for the world. If it were not for the young men and women who fought for our country and who fought with courage for freedom, who knows what language we would have woken up speaking today. If you ever have the chance, listen to the stories of this generation: it will blow your mind.
This is a generation that not only survived the harshness of the Great Depression but then went on to fight in World War II. They didn’t even get to come home when the war was over because the government feared that they would overwhelm the work force so, much later than they should have, many soldiers were finally able to go home. They didn’t receive the fanfare they deserved for defeating Hitler, instead they quietly slipped their uniforms into the closet, put on their work clothes and went to work.
I was so fortunate to have the most amazing dinner date for the Honor Flight event, his name was Joe Brewer. When I first met Joe I didn’t realize that he was a “big deal” or that his stories would get my heart pounding in rhythm to the sounds of “God Bless America.” He simply asked if I would like a place to sit, pulled out a chair for me, and then promptly asked, “How do you stay so skinny?”
I couldn’t help but laugh, such a common question, but not one I really appreciate hearing.
“Genetics, I guess!” I said with a smile and a shrug.
“No, no, no,” he said. “What kind of workouts do you do? I used to do a lot of workouts you know! What do you eat? Nutrition is a big part of it!”
At the re-phrasing of the question he had my full attention and we got into a spritely banter about what workouts women should or shouldn’t do. He loved that I played college basketball, he loved that I was tall, he loved that I would take the time to speak with him.
Joe and I got the opportunity to sit at the head table. I watched through my sports-honed peripheral vision as he deftly maneuvered his way through the complicated maze of fine-dining silverware. I silently followed his lead. I waited until he ate. I watched what utensil he used; I have taken plenty of dining etiquette classes through the years as I love to eat and always sign up for the class in the hope that we would have real fine dining food (it never was, it was always plastic food or pictures) but when push comes to shove I’m still a little questionable at time. Joe though, Joe knew his stuff!
My job at the event was small as I worked with the auctioneer, reading off the different auction item descriptions before they were auctioned off with all proceeds going towards the Honor Flight trip for Veterans. Before we started the auction I watched the promotional video explaining Honor Flight and their mission which is “The Last Mission” for these veterans. You’ll find it attached below.
Engrossed in the film, it wasn’t until I noticed withy peripherals that Joe had tears in his eyes as he watched the film, reliving horrors, re-visiting friends, and bringing back memories of his Honor Flight trip. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing or not, but I reached over and patted his hand. I thought about holding his hand but thought it may be too much, too soon for our first date! I didn’t want to offend Joe. I don’t think he’s weak. I think he is stronger than any human being I will ever meet. I wanted him to know that I was proud of him and that I was happy to be here, at this event, with him sitting next to me.
Halfway through the auction we took a break and Joe was formally introduced to a standing ovation. He humbly got up and proceeded to the podium where he told us about his life. About what Honor Flight meant to him.
Joe is one of the last surviving marines from Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles during all of World War II. Joe talked about how he had told his father that he was going to be a marine, whether he had to “go through the front door or the back door!”
Well, the back door it was for Joe!
He was a member of the United States Navy where his ship was attacked and, for lack of a better definition, sunk beyond repair. Joe said that they then “had the gall” to “throw a typewriter” at him. He informed them that he wasn’t going to help anyone by typing letters so he was told, “Well, why don’t you type your own orders?”
Joe typed his orders to be a part of the United States marines and, “by Golly! They passed them!” Just like that, Joe had become a marine in World War II.
He said the deciding factor that let him in at a small five foot, seven inches, was that he had worked, in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, with a volunteer first aid car where they had assisted with the delivering of some babies, minor surgeries, and more. As they jumped over the ship, ready to invade Iwo Jima, helmets on, Joe said that he didn’t hear what they were announcing until they were on the dingy and his comrade said, “You know he asked for you to take special care of all of us?” He said that he felt a sense of pride, amongst all of those honorable and amazing marines to be singled out for what he was special at.
The main memory that he wanted to share with us was that, as he was running through the carnage, trying to help each of his fallen comrades he saw one of the “large marines,” as they were all “big men, six foot six at the shortest… well besides me!” He was laying on the ground and he was shouting, trying to find his arm which had been blown off. He was panicked. Jim told him he would “do his best” and, just a few short feet away, he found an arm. Whether it was the fallen soldiers’ or not, he took it back to him. The soldier sobbed, hugged the arm to his body, and slipped away quietly to death.
Joe then said, “They say marines don’t cry.
Like HELL we don’t!”
Joe lived in a time where young men did WHATEVER they could to fight four our country. They knew every word of the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and every single verse of God Bless America. Joe lived with a group of young men who literally sacrificed everything; their education, their families, their future, for the fight for the better good. This wasn’t a war that was on our American topsoil, not until Pearl Harbor. This was a war that was being fought in Europe. This was a time when people from other countries cried out for help and the Greatest Generation was not the kind to sit back and let them suffer.
At what point did we become so entitled to believe that we didn’t need to help. That we didn’t need to eliminate terrorists and attack dictators. At what point did we become soft? At what point did young boys stop getting flowers for girls they were sweet on? At what point did pleasantries, formalities, and gratitude were forgotten?
Joe, his friends, his comrades, my grandparents, my great grandparents – they are all individuals that I am very proud to say are American.
I can only hope that one day I have the ability to make them just as proud.
This is why I rodeo. This is why I promote agriculture. This is why I promote our Veterans and this is MOST definitely why I am proud to be a part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, who gives so much to our veterans. This is why I have sanctioned myself with an association where the patriotism never “dies off” like it did after the Greatest Generation, an association who has young men and women who compete for them that support those who came before us. An association that plays the National Anthem before every event, who typically send a prayer over the crowd and athletes before we begin, and who work endlessly to help our veterans and active duty men and women.
The PRCA founded the Wrangler National Patriot Program with Wrangler jeans in 2009 to support wounded or fallen military veterans and family members. It has continued to include tours to the troupes with top cowboys and cowgirls to spread goodwill and cheer as well as proceeds from their Patriot Shirts. I hope to someday be a part of one of these trips.